Golden eagles – viewed by many as one of Scotland's most iconic species – will become a more common sight across the south of Scotland following a successful Heritage Lottery application bid.
The South of Scotland Golden Eagle project has now confirmed funding of over £1.3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund and can move ahead with plans to boost numbers of the magnificent bird in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders.
“Golden eagles are arguably Scotland's most iconic species. This programme will ensure more of us can see these magnificent birds across the south of Scotland's skies,” said Mark Oddy, Chair of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project.
“This venture is not just about birds, but is also about people. In the coming months we will continue to work closely with people living and working in the south of Scotland so everyone can get behind our endeavour. I thank the Heritage Lottery Fund for their huge support – it is fantastic news for nature.”
At present there are only two to four pairs of golden eagles in the south of Scotland – but a supporting project study has shown that the region has suitable habitat for between 10 and 16 breeding pairs.
The project has identified that the best way of enhancing this fragmented and vulnerable population is through increasing the supply of young eagles, which will eventually become part of the breeding population.
Golden eagle project gets £1.3 million National Lottery green light
Recent satellite tagging work has shown that the south of Scotland golden eagle population is greatly isolated from larger populations of the species in the Highlands. In summer 2018 and for the next four years it is planned to bring between five and 10 young eagles south.
Rear and release
The project team will use tried and tested methods – derived from previous white-tailed eagle and red kite reintroduction projects – for rearing and releasing the young golden eagles, and through the cooperation of raptor experts and estates.
The team will collect single eagle chicks from broods of two young in the Highlands and raise and release them in a hidden location in the Borders.
Each released golden eagle will be satellite tagged to ensure the project team builds up as much information as they can on the ranging behaviour, survival, and health of the birds.
Work will start on the project this autumn, subject to a licence application lodged with Scottish Natural Heritage being approved.
“Once we have the full funding package in place we can crack on in employing the team to take the work forward. Then the really exciting work begins as we see more golden eagles and the people of south Scotland rallying to promote this wonderful area for wildlife,” said Project Manager, Cat Barlow.
“One of our first jobs will be to appoint two local officers who can work in the community to build support in advance of the first eagles' arrival.
“In the years ahead, many hundreds of people will have the opportunity – through trails, events and CCTV – to learn more about the golden eagle and its role in Scotland's biodiversity. I hope it will inspire and empower them to safeguard its existence for future generations.”
She added: “I'd like to highlight the support of members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group who have agreed to supply their considerable expertise of golden eagle conservation to the project.”
The project's next stage is to raise around £200,000 match funding and to establish the new team.
The South of Scotland Golden Eagle project is a key project under the 2020 Challenge for Scottish Biodiversity. It is a partnership of RSPB Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Buccleuch, and the Langholm Initiative – which have been working together for more than 10 years to bring the initiative to realisation.
Lucy Casot, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “We have some wonderful native wildlife in Scotland and collectively we have a responsibility for its survival. It is the prospect of glimpsing rare species – such as these glorious golden eagles – that attracts visitors to our shores, bringing much-needed tourist income to our communities.
“Thanks to players of The National Lottery, this project gives us all the opportunity to learn more about an important bird of prey and the role it plays in Scotland's biodiversity.”
The initiative has had support from Roseanna Cunningham MSP – Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform – who said: “Many congratulations to all involved in gaining such tremendous support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This will ensure golden eagles have a secure footing in the south of Scotland, and will bring huge benefits to the local economy and communities through a variety of tourism and educational opportunities.”
Dr Cat Barlow with kestrel chick
Golden eagle © Laurie Campbell